The Most Important Coaching Principles in Youth Football

The ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho has achieved many things in his time as an elite level coach, but outside of his on-field accomplishments, he also arguably ushered in the age of the ‘superstar’ coach.

Prior to his arrival on the scene as the manager of Porto, coaches and managers tended to play an instrumental but covert role in their teams’ success, but since Mourinho we’ve seen coaches like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Diego Simeone and Thomas Tuchel become star performers on the sidelines.

Despite this, the fundamentals of football coaching remain unchanged, particularly at youth level. We’ll take a closer look at some of these below, which can play a crucial role when launching a new football team and affording your players the best chance of success.

1. Possession and Ball Control

Since the FA invested in a youth coaching overhaul in 2012, there has been a far greater focus on technical skills such as control, passing and the retention of possession when under pressure.

This is built on the premise that controlling the ball results in superior game control, while helping players to conserve energy and maintain high levels of intensity for a full 90 (or 120) minutes.

Similarly, coaching simple possession drills and placing a keen focus on ball retention automatically makes your opponents run more and force technical errors over time, especially in terms of rash tackles, tactical indiscipline and the decision to drop their defensive line deeper and deeper.

Possession drills often focus on retaining the ball in increasingly tight spaces over time, which helps to sharpen reactions and control and helps to simulate real match conditions.

2. Understand the Role of Free Spaces

Another key to successful ball retention is the constant movement and rotation of players, which enables team members to identify and exploit free spaces during attacking phases.

Moving into free spaces can take multiple forms, whether your striker regularly looks to penetrate the space in behind the opponent’s defence or use spaces to support attacks and maintain width.

Ultimately, free space and its exploitation favours the offensive side, while it relies on a coaches’ ability to teach patience in their players and expect the ball as they move into designated areas during structured attacks.

An understanding of free spaces also helps in the defensive and transitional phases, as you look to identify danger and proactive snuff out counterattacks before the defensive line is exposed.

3. The Importance of Finishing

In an age where we tend to eulogise technical skills such as dribbling and progressive passing through the defensive line, it’s all too easy to overlook the importance of finishing attacks and being clinical in the attacking third.

Ultimately, you need to enforce the importance of decision making as a youth coach, as you encourage players to choose when to shoot, when to pass and when to run with the ball.

When the opportunity presents itself, players must also have good shooting technique and a clinical eye, so that they can get their efforts on target and trouble the opposition keeper. This can be honed by regularly shooting drills, which focus on the utilisation of space and the goal of getting an accurate shot away when the time is right.

Ultimately, your coaching should ensure that as many attacks as possible end with a shot on goal, without encouraging players to snatch at chances!

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